Tag Archives: oyster

The Demise of Bivalves and Shell Creation

oyster new york


The acidification of Oceans is well documented.  Many species are unable to survive the increase of acid occurring so the ability of the Oceans to absorb carbon dioxide is radically diminishing.  One of the drastic affects of this process is the inability of the bivalves to create shells.  This was exacerbated by the National Park Service’s decision to close a very important supplier in Northern California of these delicate creatures, Drakes Bay Oyster Farm-the largest of the lot and provider of up to forty percent for the other companies.  In 2013, they raised eight million oysters.  An oyster can filter up to forty gallons of water a day.

Kevin Lunny, owner of federaaly closed Drakes Bay Oyster Company

Kevin Lunny, owner of federally closed Drakes Bay Oyster Company

After much litigation and pubic outcry, Drakes Bay Oyster Company will close this year after eighty years in existence.  It does reside on federal lands.  All the other suppliers, most notable is the Hog Island Oyster Company on Tomales Bay, depend on them.  Drive up Route One any weekend day, and the road is congested with cars parked cheek to jowl up the entire coastline.

Publisher enjoying the spoils of Drake's Bay Oysters. Photo by Shaun Fenn

Publisher enjoying the spoils of Drake’s Bay Oysters. Photo by Shaun Fenn

Like New York, documented in the wonderful book Oysters, San Francisco was awash in oysters as the settlers arrived.  They were a mainstay in the diets, including being sold from carts on the streets, but before too long they were depleted by overfishing. Oysters began to be ‘seeded’ by the mid-1850s.  This hatchery process is very delicate and concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, starting with microscopic larvae, it has become a very scientific process.

Acidification of nautilus seashells

Acidification of nautilus seashells

Humans are dumping seventy million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day.  Oceans absorbs about a third of it.   The Ocean is now thirty percent more acidic than it was two hundred years ago.  It is not the acid that prevents the oysters from growing shells, but the concomitant lack of carbonate ions in the water.  They need these ions to build their shells.  This is compounded in the Pacific Ocean by the upwelling of water that has spent 30 – 50 years in depths that have absorbed more carbon dioxide from decomposition in the Ocean.

Ocean Acidification diagram

Ocean Acidification diagram

When oysters are grown in the vats as larvae, adding pH-raising chemicals can control water conditions.  But when it is time for them to be set out in the Ocean for one to two years to mature, they are vulnerable to the vagaries of the conditions.  Seeds are now at a premium and the suppliers cannot meet the demand. One of the largest, Whiskey Creek, produces only 25% of its demands despite the buffering of the pH.  Furthermore, the seeds are much less healthy and fewer survive to maturity.


Woman shucking oysters on the waterfront

UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab partnered with Hog Island in 2012 to collect data on the water conditions. This author grew oysters in Tomales Bay for a few years in a community program with the intention of starting a commercial fishery.  The governmental restrictions were too onerous to overcome.  In contrast to Marin County, Humboldt County, to the north, is assisting farmers to develop fisheries; in fact Hog Island is starting a hatchery there now.

17 vintage postcard italy fishing boat catania

In only fifteen years, according to the respected publication, Nature, acid levels will increase to a level of no retreat that will not be able to support oysters, as well as other shellfish – clams, mussels and snails.  If India continues to dig deeper for dirty coal without regard to emissions as they have stated, and the GOP win their battle for the XL Pipeline shipping sludge that is twenty percent more polluting while taking three gallons of water for one gallon of sludge to produce, stripping forests – the conditions of the fisheries will be extinct by 2050.

Oyster feast. Photo by Kim Steele

Oyster feast. Photo by Kim Steele


Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, views Drakes Bay Oyster Company first-hand

Secretary Salazar and the owners of Drakes Bay Oyster Company, photograph by Kim Steele

With the impending expiration of Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s lease with the National Park Service, on November 31, 2012, Secretary Salazar sat down with the Drake’s Bay Oyster Company family owners.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company foreman, Lunny family, photograph by Kim Steele

Present in support of sustainable farming were: Tom Moore, Manager California Department Of Fish And Game; Marin County Supervisor, Steve Kinsey; and Tod Friend, Tomales Bay Oyster Company. All agreed that the importance of maintaining this lease was essential to the economic health of the Point Reyes community.

Representative Pete McCloskey, photograph by Kim Steele

Lifetime environmental activist, including Founder of Earth Day in 1970, Representative Pete McCloskey provided convincing dialogue to the Secretary to renew the lease. “In two years the Bush administration has tried to roll back almost all the environmental advances that were made in the last 33 years,” he says in an interview in his Redwood City law office. “I’m almost embarrassed to be a Republican.”

Secretary Salazar, Kevin Lunny, Bud Abbot, Kim Steele, photograph by Kim Steele

Salazar reiterated that this is a compelling and precedential decision which requires great consideration. The jury is still out, Secretary Salazar is expected to make a decision this week.

Tod Friend of Tomales Bay Oyster Company, Bud Abbot, Kim Steele, photograph by Sally Wilson

The farm tour was accompanied by numerous members of the press and dedicated supporters.

Ginny Cummings, Secretary Salazar, Kevin Lunny, photograph by Kim Steele

Help Save family-owned Drake’s Bay Oyster Company


Drake’s Estero, an expansive estuary on the Point Reyes peninsula, is in danger of losing one of its most prominent and ecologically conscious residents: the Lunny Family-owned Drakes Bay Oyster Company. The oyster farm produces 40% of California’s oysters. As stewards of the land, the Lunny Family is driven by a deep respect for the earth and the waters of the Estero ecosystems. The oysters and seafood are raised in the most pristine body of water of any area grown in California. The farm provides jobs, housing, and income to many locals, and is a significant part of the history and diversity of the region’s thriving agricultural community. Now, the forty-year lease for the Drake Bay Oyster Company is set to expire November 30th! So please join Senator Dianne Feinstein and others in showing support for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

Kim Steele is a photographer and concerned environmentalist living in San Francisco. Please sign his petition to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar: Renew the lease for Drakes Bay Oyster Company at Drakes Bay Estero.                                                                          

Kim Steele, oyster farmer

Oyster watercolor by Alek Kardas

Please visit Kim’s photography websites here and here, and his Oyster aficionado site for more on his photography, work and activities.